From Nelson George (Smithsonian.com)
John Coltrane. Photograph: Chuck Stewart
John Coltrane. Photograph: Chuck Stewart

On December 9, 1964, saxophonist John Coltrane led a quartet that featured pianist McCoy Tyner, drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison into Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, where countless jazz recording sessions were held in the 1950s and ’60s. For photographer Chuck Stewart, Van Gelder’s was a short drive from his home in Teaneck.

That day nearly 50 years ago the band recorded a Coltrane composition titled A Love Supreme, a profound expression of his spiritual awakening divided into four movements—“Acknowledgement,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance,” “Psalm.” For its soaring ambition, flawless execution and raw power, it was hailed as a groundbreaking piece of music when it was released in February 1965, and it has endured as a seminal part of the jazz canon. The work and its composer will be highlighted anew this April during Jazz Appreciation Month, an annual event launched in 2001 by the National Museum of American History, whose collection includes Coltrane’s original manuscript for A Love Supreme. (more…)

Critics past and present reflect on the legacy of Miles Davis’ landmark jazz-fusion record

From Langdon Winner’s 1970 review in Rolling Stone:

Miles Davis
Miles Davis

Miles’ music continues to grow in its beauty, subtlety and sheer magnificence. Bitches’ Brew is a further extension of the basic idea he investigated in his two previous albums, Filles De Kilimanjaro and In A Silent Way. In a larger sense, however, the record is yet another step in the unceasing process of evolution Miles has undergone since the Forties. The man never stops to rest on his accomplishments. Driven forward by a creative elan unequaled in the history of American music, he incorporates each successive triumph into the next leap forward.

The wonderful thing about Miles’ progress is that he encourages others to grow with him. Within the context of his sound there is more than enough room for both his musicians and his listeners to pursue their own special visions. Looking back on the history of Miles’ ensemble, we find the likes of John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Tony Williams, Ron Carter, and Wayne Shorter. He always seems to select the best young jazzmen in the country and then gives them the freedom to develop their own unique modes of playing. Miles is known to be a stern disciplinarian, but never a tyrant. When a man has performed with the group long enough to gain a firm footing, he leaves as a recognized giant on his instrument. (more…)

Robert McCrum (the Guardian) travels to New York and interviews American writer Don DeLillo. Ironically, for an article about ‘manipulating reality’, McCrum is vague and even mistaken when trying to summarize DeLillo’s career, but the article redeems itself when the conversation begins. DeLillo discusses the inspirations behind his work, the contemporary political landscape, and his place in American literature
DeLillo now lives in Westchester County in New York State with his wife, Barbara, a landscape designer, but he has not completely left his childhood neighbourhood, a place he insists still “looks the same, though the people are different”: an influx of new immigrants, Serbs, Croats and African-Caribbeans. Every year, he goes back to meet old school friends from the streets of his childhood. “We meet on a major street and have a meal together and a laugh,” he says. Inevitably, the conversation will turn to baseball, DeLillo’s first love – what he calls his “second language”. Baseball, he says, “was just so natural, because we all grew up with it. We played it; we listened to it on the radio, and then we went to Yankee stadium. It was a taken-for-granted pleasure”.

(more…)

An excerpt from a 1994 interview with jazz saxophonist Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson in October 1963. Photograph: Francis Wolff.
Joe Henderson in October 1963. Photograph: Francis Wolff.

A broad freedom of expression was available in the jazz vocabulary. And Henderson says he misses it these days.

“I’ve done some free things because there’s a part of me that is a bit of an iconoclast and was especially so at that time. Part of the spirit then was just to reject all that stuff like bar lines and key signatures. We didn’t want to know about it.

“So part of the thing then was just to get up on the bandstand. I became a little self-conscious about people coming in with their own music and parts written out for everyone to play and totally displacing what others might want to bring. I just said, ‘Let’s play’ and didn’t want to interfere by even suggesting a title for a tune. (more…)

In a 2014 review, Larry Rohter (New York Times) takes a look at David L. Lewis’s documentary

Early in “The Pleasures of Being Out of Step,” a documentary about the writer, critic and record producer Nat Hentoff that opens on Wednesday, Mr. Hentoff declares that “the Constitution and jazz are my main reasons for being.” That may seem an odd pairing to anyone unfamiliar with the man or his work, but Mr. Hentoff has nurtured those twin passions since the 1940s. (more…)

Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
An excerpt from a 2011 interview with Chris Richards (The Washington Post)

Mature, precocious, cultured and determined. Aside from a few summers in Maryland, Rollins spent his childhood in Harlem, a cultural epicenter that would shape him into a jazz icon who would steer the trajectory of the genre and the concept of improvisation writ large. As Rollins looks back, the chapters of his life often slice into neat little halves — separate realities where he toggled between success and struggle, renown and solitude. He apprenticed with the bop gods (Charlie Parker, Miles Davis) while battling the dark forces of addiction. At his highest levels of acclaim, he took mysterious sabbaticals that felt like vanishing acts. Today, Rollins says he gets through “this world full of problems” by reaching for higher spiritual plateaus that he “can almost touch,” but never quite does. (more…)